Competence addiction

Of late, I’ve been listening to Stephen Jenkinson. I’ve all his books on audio and I tend to move between “Die Wise” and “Come of Age”; I’ve struggled with “Money and The Soul’s Desire”.

One thing he’s very clear about his our predilection and move (always) to competency. Likewise, his books are replete with pouring scorn on the personal growth movement; namely, ‘be all you can be’.

Now, I realise this, almost single-handedly, goes against the tide of what we’re told to expect from life, but the example he uses is the golfer who practices to get so good that he finally gives up. I realise that that may take some unravelling but think about this way:

You’re told you can be anything you like — i.e. express yourself, fully. (Which self? Now that’s an interesting question.)

You believe it.

Or you don’t disbelieve it — at least in the early stages of your push for the apogee of your ambition.

You might (but there’s no guarantee) undertake a period of quiet reflection to make sure that the promised land is worth pursuing.

And then you begin.

You run faster and faster and along the way you experience a few minor or major successes.

But at some stage, the tide begins to turn.

The sheen wears off either because the joy has all but gone or something else shows up that’s much more important or interesting.

You jump ship and start afresh.

And this shell game — stop, start, stop, start — leaves you, in the end, bereft of life.

More than that you’ve long since forgotten who the bloody hell you are.

Does this sound familiar?

If there’s an epiphany moment it’s not finding a guru, it’s being wrecked on schedule — another favourite Stephenson aphorism.

Now that sort of defeatist language isn’t the order of the competency addicted paradigm that we’re immersed in.

“Just Do It”.


Anything at all.

You dare not give up.

Trouble is, by the time you come alive to true self — some never do — it’s too late to reinvent yourself another time. You’re in too deep. You make do; wait around for retirement; and then, hopefully, you let go of the thrashing.

Think of an elder. They’re replete with wisdom — or the ones I’ve known. It’s not something they’ve garnered and, certainly, they’re not part of the life-coach cohort. It’s part of their fundamental being.

If we’re lucky enough to rest at their feet, it’s rarely the case that they’re dolling out another life lesson. Their life is the lesson. They don’t say a lot — sometimes they say nothing and just listen. But most especially of all, they’ve let go or been forced to do so by life’s circumstance and there’s no need, not that there ever was, to be competent.

At what? Being yourself.

In that limited state, often quite difficult to apprehend to our egoic self, we realise that the only way to learn is to let go. And when I say let go, what I’m alluding to is this constant need to perform for some faux audience. Instead, if we need to focus on anything it’s to look within, drop the pretence that we need to be anything or get anywhere and not be put off by those people who chide us for living up to our potential. What they actually mean is through their prism of existence, which is usually wrought in the image of someone else, that it behoves us to keep striving until we get somewhere.

As I’ve said many times before, there’s no need to go anywhere. Home is where you’re standing right now.

You might think I’m exhorting a sort of anti-competence movement. I suppose I am. But then again, the few artists and creatives I know don’t try. They don’t have to. This isn’t me getting all bleary-eyed about the muse. This is me highlighting the fact that just once in a while it’s worth questioning why we, so easily, are seduced to believe that we’ve got to work so hard at something only, as the golf analogy at the start posits, to give up.

Take care.


Photo by JR Korpa on Unsplash